Background: Elderly individuals who experience weight loss are at increased risk of premature death and disability. These data contradict findings among younger populations, showing direct relationship between Body Mass Index (BMI) and chronic diseases.
Methods: In the following manuscript we reviewed papers published in medical as well as in nutritional journals in the area of weight change, morbidity and mortality in old age, since 1990.
Results: Recent data indicates that among the elderly, unintentional weight loss of 5% of baseline weight during a period of 1 year marks the beginning of nutritional deterioration. As for BMI, in most studies that were reviewed for this manuscript, BMI of over 25 was protective. In a large study that was conducted in Hong Kong with 2032 participants aged 70 and older, low baseline weight was associated with mortality and was an independent predictor for the development of new diseases. In another large multicentered cohort study in the USA, 4714 participants were followed. Mortality rates among weight losers were twice as high as mortality rates among the rest of the group.
Conclusions: Low-weight and weight loss are independent predictors for mortality among the elderly population. There is a need to develop and implement screening methods for weight loss in all the medical settings that deal with elderly people. Additionally, there is a need for developing and assessing models for intervention among elderly people who are at nutritional risk.